In a recent edition of his newsletter, author James Clear wrote the following:
“Over long time frames, simply staying in the game is impressive.
– Health and fitness: Can you stay injury free and not miss workouts?
– Wealth and finance: Can you avoid debt and continue to save?
– Business: Can you maintain cash flow and stay in business?
Longevity is its own form of greatness.“
That got me thinking.
On the one hand, I've long thought that what Clear is observing is true about teaching. Longevity in this profession is an exceptional kind of greatness. If you let me choose between one Erin Gruwell (whose four-year teaching career — yes, four years — was the highlight of the memoir and film Freedom Writers) and one Doug Stark or Diane Wanamaker or Jackie Berndt or Tracy Franklin (folks who worked in education or are still working in education after full careers)… well, that's like choosing between a grain of sugar or a pair of Reese's peanut butter cups.
Gimme that PB and chocolate.
Gimme those thirty+ years of dedication over those four.
But on the other hand, there are at least two ways to remain an educator your whole career, aren't there?
- Way One: Do your time. Avoid getting fired. Deal with the kids you teach. Deal with their parents. Count each day as one day closer to retirement when you get to do what you want to do.
- Way Two: Invest your time, month by month becoming better. Engage your heart and mind and strength in the kids that you teach, for the duration of each working hour. Engage your heart and mind and strength with their parents, with your colleagues, with your community. Count each day as one distinct gift, as one chance to invest your working labors into the lives of other people.
Way One can get you to the finish line of a career, but it's surely not greatness.
It's better than making your living selling cocaine, I guess.
But not much of a life.
Way Two, however — Longevity in that work? I can think of no career that will leave one as grateful for having had the chance to do the work, so long as you're able to conduct it with moderation, with an eye toward your whole life and not just your job, with a sense that there are things beyond the school and classroom that you are uniquely responsible for, folks who depend on you like no student ever will.
All to say, dear colleague, on this fine fall Thursday morning: cheers to that second kind of longevity.